Temporada's stool-lined central bar (left). Photo: Andrew Meares
We need to talk. About Canberra. Not about politicians, roundabouts or blockbuster art shows, but about food and wine, bread and coffee.
Canberra is where it's at, and it's getting attier by the month. The dramatic new architecture of New Acton, the zoomy new hotel brands Hotel Hotel and QT, the booming local coffee and bakery scene, the growing status of its regional wines and the black gold of local truffles are turning the place into a gastronomic destination.
Next-gen chefs are kicking in, doing urban cowboy food at the lively eightysix in Braddon, sizzle and smoke at the Capitol Grill, yabby jaffles at the forthcoming Godzilla at Hotel Hotel, duck schnitzels at Lonsdale Street Roasters, and hidden-treasure dinners at Mocan & Green Grout. Even old-school Mezzalira has spawned a new-school, streetside bacaro food bar, in Da Rosario, while Italian & Sons is going gangbusters. And now Ben Willis, with partner Chris Darragh as head chef, has opened a more casual, but no less serious, alternative to his two-hatted Aubergine in Griffith.
Go to dish: Chocolate and chestnut cake, creme fraiche. Photo: Andrew Meares
Called Temporada (Spanish for season), the big, high-ceilinged space is a rustic outpost in a street lined with offices. Walls are clad with raw wooden planks, and tables gather either side of a stool-lined central bar, with various high and low seating options.
The menu is instantly inviting, driven by everything from tapas-style share plates to slow-cooked meats and smoky grills. Snack attackers will go for the warm escabeche of sardines on toast with black garlic and tomato ($4.50), a lush, gamey, venison scotch egg with a heart of soft-yolked quail egg on a rich sauce gribiche ($9), and a high-personality slider of pressed pig's head with sauce romesco and creamy coleslaw ($8) that's maybe a bit too creamy.
Darragh is in love with his big, wood-fired Champion Tuff grill, which lends a smoky charisma to everything from warm, briny Moonlight Flat oysters ($4 each) to handsomely grill-marked marinated quail ($25) served with grilled polenta fingers under a barrage of vincotto-dressed treviso leaves. Swordfish teamed with chorizo, peperonata and bitter lemon cream ($27) is a charming wander through fruity red peppers, charry sausage, chunks of white-meaty fish, giant wood sorrel and they-weren't-joking bitter lemon cream. There are multiple sightings of grilled lamb ribs with spiced eggplant ($33), and desserts of salted caramel doughnuts with banana ice-cream, as they fight it out for the signature dish gong.
Manager Ben Donnelly is on hand to help with a quirky, out-there wine list that turns a seasoned drinker into a virgin, ordering everything for the first time. I feel the need for gamay, and yes, there's an elegant, yet intense 2012 Domaine Chignard Les Moriers Fleurie ($75) that could hit the dancefloor with practically anything on the menu.
Desserts are a little more refined, especially a gorgeous, slender finger of dense chocolate and chestnut sponge (made with chestnut flour ground in-house) topped with a rich but light chocolate and chestnut mousse, and a skin of chocolate jelly ($16). Add creme fraiche and some wood-fired chestnuts, and it's a timely reminder of the joys of autumn.
Lovely crockery, soft dark linen napkins, professional staff and a clever, grill-tastic menu that covers both snacky and slap-up make Temporada a real game-changer for the capital.
With everything else that's going on, it means Sydneysiders can now start thinking of Canberra as Londoners think of Brussels, the seat of European parliament - not as a dull and parochial poli-town, but as a chic, small city close to home with good food, wine and its own special spirit. We should go, often. It's fun.
Best bit: Comfort cooking from a skilled team.
Worst bit: It's too cold to sit outside.
Go to dish: Chocolate and chestnut cake, creme fraiche $16
- 02 6249 6683
- Cuisine - Spanish
- Prices - About $115 for two, plus drinks
- Features - Bar
- Chef(s) - Chris Darragh
- Owners - Ben Willis
- Opening Hours - Mon-Sat, noon-late
- Author - Terry Durack